A sweeping setting that sucks you right in.
A lovable cast of characters that you just click with.
A gripping plot-line that you have to figure out.
When these three combined in just the right way it’s pure magic.
Let’s be honest, finding all three of these in a novel is difficult.
We might love the characters, but wish the setting was a little better.
Maybe the setting is amazing, but the plot falls flat.
Or maybe we adore the concept, but can’t stand character.
The following two novels by Kristin Cashore do all
three of these things brilliantly in my very humble opinion.
And I have the ever wonderful marie of Our Twilight Bubble
to thank for recommending these books to me!
Wanna hear about them?
Then let’s start:
One of the most important things when reading a novel, in my mind, is that we can connect with the main characters. That we love them and their emo-silly ways, while longing for a happily-ever-after for them, in spite of all their flaws. Katsa, the main character of Graceling, is brutally flawed, yet excusably so. Katsa is a Graceling, a person born with two different colored eyes who is graced with the ability to excel at a talent more than would be humanly possible (i.e. an amazing swimmer who can stay under water for an hour and swim up current in a whitewater rapid, a math whiz that would make Einstein look like a fool, or a chief who would shame Bobby Flay). Katsa has a killing grace. Exploded by her uncle the king of Middluns, Katsa has been his henchman since she was 11 years old. Feared by nearly everyone, save her cousin and a few trusted servants and friends, Katsa has lived believing herself a monster. In an effort to change all that, to do something good with the grace she has been cursed with, Katsa starts the Council, a group of like minded people who are trying to defend the seven kingdoms from the destructive and selfish ways of the kings. While carrying out a mission for the Council and saving the father of the King of the Lienid (one of the seven kingdoms), Katsa runs into Po, a cocky, handsome young prince of Lienid who weasels his way into her heart. Katsa and Po go on a journey in search of the kidnappers of Po’s grandfather, which takes them deep into the heart of evil. Both discover not only the strength of their graces but the strength of love, friendship, and trust.
The beauty of Ms. Cashore’s story is that her characters aren’t just concerned with falling in love but with making their world a better place and protecting others above all else. Not only that, but they are willing to sacrifice self in an effort to accomplish their goals. I couldn’t help but come to respect Katsa while reading Graceling for her perseverance, her determination to make of herself something more than the monster she has been told she is, and her willingness to put others before herself. She is flawed, no doubt. Whiny at times, for sure. Head strong and impulsive to a fault, yes. But commendable for her strength both physically and internally. She is a strong female character you can’t help but rally behind. And Po is equally just as strong of a character and compliments Katsa in nearly every way, allowing her to often take the lead and acknowledging her impressive strength as superior to his without taking a hit to his ego. You will not find a dominating hero in this lovely novel, but a supportive male lead who wants a partner who is his equal not his subordinate.
I adore the support cast of characters, especially Raffin Katsa’s cousin and Bitterblue a young girl who comes under the protection of Katsa and Po. Ms. Cashore gave these wonderful characters a beautiful world and setting to live in, rich with history and texture. Not only that, but her plot-line twisted and turned giving this readers no clear view of where they were heading. I was not at all let down while reading this novel and had a very hard time putting it down to eat, sleep, or do anything normal. As one of my Goodreads friends put it:
I, too, didn’t want the story to end and I found it just as captivating! The only slightly negative thing I have to say is that I thought the ending of the novel dragged a little and the final chapter was a tad weak, but in all honesty, I prefer a story that drags slightly at the end verses one that just slaps you in the face with its harsh, abrupt ending.
Fire is a companion novel to Graceling. The story takes place about 35 year prior to Graceling, and in a different part of the world, the Dells, which the people of the seven kingdoms are completely unaware of. There is one character from Graceling you shall meet again but you aren’t getting out of me who it is (*zips lips*). Fire is the story of a human monster. errr… Yeah, I know, it sounds a little complicated and slightly silly, but let me ‘splan. Monsters in this world are beautiful creatures with special abilities. These creatures can be cats, dogs, bugs, and even humans. The main character is …wait for it… Fire a human girl who just so happens to be a mind-reading, mind-manipulating, stunningly beautiful monster who’s father Cansrel was one bad ass mother… errrr… guy. Let’s just say that Cansrel caused a looooot of drama and heartache for the people of the Dells. Now the kingdom is in peril and the new king and his family must turn to Fire for help. Both feared, mistrusted, loved, and desired, Fire has lived a harsh life in the shadow of her father’s legacy. Not only that, Fire knows her powers are dangerous and lives in constant fear of one day truly becoming a monster. Being the last of her kind, Fire is alone in the world both filled with sorrow over the loss of her father, while ashamed to claim him as her own. Can she overcome both her “bad” blood and the mistrust of the king’s brother Brigan? Will the Dells fall into total and complete chaos? Can Fire help to bring peace or will she only cause destruction or her own death?
In all honesty, I loved Fire more than Graceling which surprised me. When I found out it had nothing to do with furthering the story of Graceling I was a little annoyed. Then when I read it was about monsters I thought LAME. Boy, was I ever wrong. And I’m glad I gave it a chance despite my misgivings (thank you again to my lovely friend marie). What made me adore this novel so much?
Outside of the beautiful setting, the engrossing story-line, and Ms. Cashore’s fantastic voice, I fell in love with Fire, Brigan, and many of the secondary characters. But I didn’t just fall in love with them, I came to respect and admire them greatly. Fire might be one of the most selfless, beautiful on the inside characters I’ve read about in a while. She is motivated not only by doing right but protecting the world from herself. The cost of trying to protect her world leads to great personal sacrifice on her part. There were moments when I couldn’t help but crying for her and her self-sacrificing ways. Also, I enjoyed the love story, one that doesn’t just happen with a snap of the author’s fingers or a glance across the room, but one which grows due to respect and trust. One that became something more than a physical attraction or a need for one another, but a lasting relationship that the reader gets to watch grow before their eyes. And the hero of this tale, while not physically God’s gift to mankind, is dreamy in his own right. The type of swoon worthy I can’t help but fall in love with. Honest, protective, supportive, intelligent, witty, strong willed, heroic, self sacrificing, humble, loving, and overall just fan-freaking-amazing, Brigan is the type of man I want to fall in love with in the real world.
Again, I felt the story did drag a little towards that end and if you are looking solely for a love story you might feel the ending a little lackluster in the romance department. BUT I can’t say it enough, I would much rather that than a wham-bam-thank-you-ma’am of an ending that doesn’t make any bloody sense whatsoever! Also, I’d rather a well established love story that builds over time, rather than one that slaps me in the face with it’s suddenness.
5 out of 5!
Books books books.
I heart books.
Peering into the Future:
Ms. Cashore’s blog has information on the third novel of this compaginon series:
Book 3, tentatively titled Bitterblue and currently in progress, is a companion book to both Graceling and Fire and takes place in the seven kingdoms six years after Graceling. As you may have gathered, the protagonist is Bitterblue. Yes, Katsa, Po, and others from Graceling whom I’m not yet willing to name do appear in the book. I don’t know yet when it’ll be coming out, and heartily invite you not to ask ^_^. That’s all I can say about it at this point.
Tis enough for me.
I must admit that I adore being able to continue the story of such a rich world, revisit old friends, while at the same time not be left hanging at the end of a novel. This series is fantastic just based on that fact alone. I truly enjoyed both of these tales and when the story was over I was completely satisfied, not on edge. I am eager to read another book written by Ms. Cashore in the [hopefully] not too distant future. She has gained a very steadfast fan in me.
Have you read Graceling or Fire?
Excited about Bitterblue?
Like to say that things are “en fuego” like me?
Love revisiting worlds and old friends
but slightly overwhelmed with series of late?
Please tell me what you think!
Until next time-
Yours very truly,